If the success of my mate Andy's Terrible Real Estate Agent Photographs and the resulting media interest is anything to go by, then 2013 was the year social media arrived.
Shortlisted in the National UK Blog Awards 2014 and the Most Viral Tumblr Blogs in 2013, his dry, witty commentary brilliantly compliments the bland, unusual or downright weirdest property photos; it's incredible the global interest that has been generated in the photo blog too, and quite rightly so.
From this and the Top Pins of 2013, for example, to my Facebook 2013 Year In Review (pictured, clockwise; selfie overload, with my brother and, separately, outside Old Trafford with a mate); the Telegraph's This is 2013 On Social Media to Mashable's Best Memes of 2013; and Pinterest's Top Pins of 2013 to Google Zeitgeist -- 2013 in Searches -- magical, memorable or unforgettable social media moments painted a picture of how events over the last 12 months unfolded.
Everyone's at it. In Hello 2014, I've blogged about aspirations for the year ahead while reflecting on some of the popular social moments of 2013. And I bet there's a flurry of 'your top 2013 engagers' starting to emerge.
It's intriguing that it's interest from traditional media sources reporting on social media events that's become symptomatic of the last year, not just the trending content.
The bigger social picture
As I was pulling together my reflection on the big moments of the year, Channel 4's Twit Of The Year popped on TV and did it for me. I know what you're thinking. As if one screen is not enough...
I'm not alone though. According to a recent blog post from the agency Golley Slater, Keeping Tabs On Success, more than half of UK adults are, like me, media multi-tasking while watching TV, with 25 per cent regularly engaging through social media with the program they are watching.
An interesting reflection but one that doesn't really in itself prove social has arrived. To explore this further, my first instinct was to look at the stats; snapshots from the Ipsos MediaCT Tech Tracker highlighting the rise in popularity of social media.
When the Tracker was first launched in 2007, social networking wasn't even listed as a potential use of the internet. Although the specific date origins of the term -- and who first coined it -- remain hotly debated, it seems undisputed that social media first started to be used, as a philosophical ambition at least, in the early to mid 90s.
With LinkedIn, Facebook and My Space, for example, all launching round about 2003-2004, it seems social media as a platform may have therefore taken about five years to start to become a reality; yet in effect it took over 10 years from inception to even start to emerge in popular public consciousness.
By the time the term was introduced into the Tracker at the start of 2008, a mere 10 percent of the 1,026 people sampled used the internet for social networking. In the most recent Tracker available, almost six years later, almost 50 percent of people visited social networking sites, forums or blogs in the three months prior.
This trend is only going to continue to increase, though whether it can sustain the same rapid ascent over the next five years is doubtful. What is most likely is that the diversification of social media is likely to lead to people to engage through a variety of platforms for different reasons, with social becoming more integrated into everyday technology.
Not all social media activity is news!
A recent interesting blog post from Econsultancy, 20 mind-blowing social media statistics: three years later, really underlines the rapid rise of social. There is undoubtedly a far broader range of statistics available that these useful sources, but the pattern is quite clear.
Yet while the outputs may be clear, that social media is being used more than ever before, one of the biggest shifts in 2013 was the prolific use of social media reference points by traditional media.
The evidence is everywhere you look. Even as the world holds its breath following Michael Schumacher's skiing accident, STV News used Twitter to highlight well wishers' prayers.
And that's not all, not by a long way. In October, for example, my local, the Courier, published Twitter updates to broaden its reporting following rival protests by the Scottish Defence League and Unite Against Fascism. This was supplemented by footage of the event aired via their You Tube channel.
Or Sky News reporting that transmitters attached to sharks around Australia could activate a beach sensor which issues a tweet listing the shark's size, breed and location; detail that can help people make more informed choices about whether to enter the water or not. Such innovative approaches of course lies in stark contrast to The Independent's entertainment news reporting this week that Kiera Knightley has left Twitter, just 12 hours after she joined. That's news -- seriously?
The BBC published an online report on New Year's Day 2014, with the title #BBCtrending: Meet the man who sells fake Twitter followers. I'm not sure if the hashtag in the title is an attempt to make the programme title look cool, get it trending, parody, or to improve search engine optimisation, but one way or the other it joins the crew: there's no channel or publication I've found that's immune to reporting coverage of social media. That's a huge shift in even just a year.
The end of TV as we know it
I find this fascinating -- not, however, traditional media's growing voyeuristic focus on social media, but rather their obsession with Twitter. Admittedly I have a healthy Twitter habit myself; but according to the Ipsos MediaCT Tech Tracker, 50 percent of all adults have used Facebook in the past three months, yet only 17 percent Twitter and Google+.
So why are Facebook or Google+ not referenced by traditional media more often? Twitter's dynamism reflects real time news and better suits the ever-moving style of mainstream media newsrooms. Plus, recent reports are generally claiming that Facebook is 'dead and buried', though I think I've heard that for about two years now (and so requires deeper analysis), and debate continues about when exactly Google+ will become the next big thing. Maybe this is the year...
Given the range of social media platforms available to choose from and the rich reporting they could return, it's in some ways surprising more stories aren't harvested from a wider range of social sources. Of course, it may be that it's just more cumbersome to generate a lead from Cowbird, Flickr, Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram -- indeed Vine -- especially as those markets starts to proliferate and social technology trends evolve.
Yet, despite this general growth in awareness and interest, Twitter's stock market price has crashed amid challenges in turning a profit. I don't think this is a sign of the beginning of the end for Twitter but it does demonstrate the incongruent relationship between profiteering and the principles behind social networks.
Intelligent media have the agility to adapt
The popularity of using Twitter to generate story leads is definitely one outcome that shows 2013 was the year that social media arrived -- or, rather, that Twitter has arrived.
Traditional media, however, while wrestling with simply trying to understand how to address or evolve to meet the challenge from social media, should be wary of over-reliance on Twitter in this way.
Intelligent media, to draw on and adapt a Stephen Hawking quote recently tweeted by Commander Chris Hadfield, have the agility to adapt. Do you?
Here's to 2014. Have a Happy New Year.
Take it easy